Book Review: De/Compositions

January 6, 2005

Welcome to the first of what will be another feature of the blog, somewhat occasional book reviews of either books of poetry or books relating to the creation, marketing, publishing, or understanding of poetry. For the inaugural review, I read De/Compositions:  101 Good Poems Gone Wrong by W.D. Snodgrass.  You can read more about the book (or order it) at the amazon link here.

  What you get with this book is an instructive education into the art of poetrycraft.  Snodgrass has taken poems written by authors from Emily Dickinson to William Shakespeare and rewritten their work, essential removing the creative spark from these poems and making them dull and lifeless.  In so doing, Snodgrass educates as to what makes the original shine. As an example, Snodgrass takes the first stanza of William Blake’s “The Tyger” and rewrites it (or, to use Snodgrass’ expression “de/composes” it) from the usual striking variance of its original meter:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

and into strict iambics:

O tyger, beast that burns so bright In darkling forests of the night, What godlike hand, what deathless eye Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

and then into anapests:

O tyger, you creature that’s burning so bright. In the threatening, darkening forests of night, What hand of immortal, what deity’s eye Dare hope it could fashion thy feared symmetry?

In so doing, Snodgrass retains the original intent of the poet, but reveals how important word choice, rhythm, voice and meter and structure are to the poet. A masterful piece of work that teaches without being “teachy.”  I highly recommend it!

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